4 Ways Churches Should Respond to “The Great Resignation”

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Last week, we had the honor of hosting a webinar with David Fletcher of XPastor. David, alongside our VP of Sales and Client Relations, Sarah Robins, discussed what William Vanderbloemen, back in January, referred to as “The Great COVID Job Churn” and how it is affecting churches. Many news outlets are now calling this phenomenon “The Great Resignation.” If you were not able to attend the webinar, here is our biggest takeaway: you have to address this burnout head-on if you want your staff to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually capable of continuing their jobs long-term. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to pouring into and encouraging your teams in the midst of turnover.

1. Enable open communication.

In seasons of transition, it is critical that open communication between pastors, their staff, and the board is not only allowed, but encouraged. If a pastor is worried that his church will cut off all support immediately when he chooses to retire, then the church has either not done an adequate job of fulfilling their Scriptural command to care for pastors (Galatians 6:6), or they have not fostered an environment of open communication. A pastor or staff member should feel comfortable asking what the expectations are for someone stepping away from a position, and how they could expect their church to respond. If your church does not have healthy communication where staff feels able to ask honest questions about their futures at the church, consider performing a culture audit in order to better understand what is preventing communication.

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Supporting your current staff directly correlates to what kind of relationship you will have with new staff. If one of your pastors leaves and your church does not enthusiastically support them, potential replacements will find out. For as much as we don’t like to admit it, there is no such thing as a secret in most churches. Regardless of your relationship with the person considering leaving, you are still expected to fulfill financial, Biblical obligations to them. 

2. Encourage rest.

Anyone on your staff who has stuck around to this point is likely experiencing some level of burnout. Ministry is difficult in unique ways; your staff is dealing with personal exhaustion from the pandemic, plus the navigating of political and racial strife which has divided congregations, as well as changes to job expectations since the onset of the pandemic. Your pastors and staff members have gone from working one job to working two: they’re maintaining the in-person aspect of the church, while now having to also foster church presence online for those attending remotely. One thing to note is the number of youth pastors and worship pastors who have transitioned out of church staff for various reasons since the start of the pandemic.

For those in church ministry specifically, Sundays simply cannot actually serve as Sabbath days. You need to not only be encouraging your staff to rest, but also provide real, practical ways to do so. Consider giving them additional days off to make up for all of the extra time they have worked in the past year and a half. And check in on them; actually ask them how they spent their time off, and make sure they spent that time resting rather than catching up on work.

3. Listen.

In some ways, this falls under open communication, but it is important that we clarify the ways that leaders should be distinctly listening to their staff. As leaders, we tend to expect to be the ones communicating, rather than being the ones communicated to. Instead of speaking to what you think your staff's needs are and trying to encourage them, choose to listen for what their needs actually are. Right now, they need you to listen more than you speak. Come up with better, regular, and creative ways to listen to your team members. If they don’t respond to one way, try another, until you are actually able to hear their needs and adequately respond. Create space for your staff to express their needs, hurts, desires, and expectations. 

4. Limit working hours.

Regardless of whether you think otherwise, it’s not sustainable to work 60-hour work weeks regularly. And your staff aren’t either. The human body doesn’t have the bandwidth to sustain that much work, because God designed us to need rest. Consider forming accountability systems to ensure that neither you nor others on your church staff are working more than a certain amount. As a leader, this might be frustrating to get used to, because we tend to want to pour ourselves completely into our ministerial work and abandon all other needs. But this is not as selfless as it seems. You need to set boundaries for yourself and your staff. Ministry is a long, long marathon, not a series of sprints. The body may be able to sprint for a while, but eventually will exhaust itself and cause long-term harm to what it is capable of doing in the future. If you limit how much you and others can work, you will be grateful in the long run. 

At Vanderbloemen, because of the breadth of our work, we get to hear from ministry leaders all over the world and the nation. And the key thing we are hearing is that people are struggling in the midst of all of this turnover. We encourage you to have open communication, good policies to protect your staff, and regular rest, but ultimately, no system will be able to fully protect you from turmoil and tiredness. The good news is, at the end of the day, we serve a God whose work cannot be disrupted by the turmoil of the world. As Isaiah 40 says, He does not grow faint or weary, and His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might, he increases strength.

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